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Watch Out for These Subtle Signs of Depression in Teens

by Jaime A. Heidel
See all TBYIL articles by Jaime A. Heidel

(The Best Years in Life) Is your teenager depressed? It can sometimes be hard to tell. The signs of depression in teens aren't always obvious. Instead of common symptoms like crying spells or suicidal ideology, there may be subtle changes in your teen's behavior that can easily slip under the radar.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 2.8 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the span of a year (2014).

That is a LOT of teenagers struggling with depression!

While some may be vocal about their feelings, many are not. They might not even completely understand what is happening to them. Adolescent brains are still developing, and when they experience certain emotional changes within themselves, they may not recognize them for what they are.

Subtle Signs of Teenage Depression You May Overlook

It's tough to be a teenager, even in the best of circumstances. A teen can have a lot of support at home, be doing well in school, and have an active social life and still be depressed.

After all, there are a lot of hormonal, physical, and emotional changes a young person has to contend with. On top of that, they are expected to maintain their active lives and keep up appearances, even if they no longer feel like their usual selves.

Berkey Water

Here are some subtle signs your teenager may be in a silent battle with depression:

  • Overwhelmed By Making Small Decisions

If asking your teen what movie they would like to watch or which restaurant they want to eat at causes moodiness, withdrawal, panic, or tearfulness, this could be a sign of depression.

Your struggling teen is already experiencing a lot of emotional turmoil and exhaustion.

What may seem like a simple question to you is, to your depressed teen, the equivalent of picking up a dehydrated marathon runner off the ground and insisting he finish the race.

  • Engages in Passive Activities Almost Exclusively

One of the classic symptoms of depression is a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable and fulfilling. Day by day, your teen will drop out of sports, hobbies, hanging out with friends and only be able to contend with the least demanding (passive) activities available. For example, surfing the web, watching TV/Netflix for hours on end, or napping.

  • Exhibits Sudden Changes in Eating Behavior and Weight

If you see sudden changes in your teenager's eating behavior, and you've noticed he or she has lost or gained an excessive amount of weight, this could be a subtle sign of depression.

Loss of appetite is a common chemical side effect of depression. Although, in some cases, it can have the exact opposite effect and lead to binge eating.

  • Withdraws from Family, Friends, and Social Activities

As the fatigue and emotional turmoil take their toll, the young person is no longer able to “fake it”. They begin to withdraw from family and friends and have little interest in activities they used to enjoy. Even suggesting they come out of their room can trigger an angry response followed by a door being slammed in your face.

  • Experiences An Unexplainable Drop in Energy Levels

Teenagers struggling with depression will often complain of having very little energy. Despite the amount of sleep they get, they still feel tired and have to drag themselves through their day.

Depression can cause your teen to spend more time in REM (dreaming) sleep than deep sleep. Without enough deep sleep, the body is unable to repair and replenish itself for the next day.

Experts believe this interruption in the sleep cycle has to do with changes in the body's serotonin level.

  • Complains of Pain That Appears to Have No Physical Cause

Serotonin also has a powerful effect on pain threshold. Without enough of this chemical, your teen may experience chronic headaches, backaches, and stomachaches that appear to have no physical cause.

When pressed, they will often say, “I just don't feel well.” They don't feel the way they used to, and it's kind of like how they feel when they have a cold or flu, but it's different. It's alien, and it can be really hard for a teenager to describe.

Being asked to explain their symptoms can be anxiety producing and may cause angry or tearful outbursts. This is because the inability to properly articulate their feelings only increases their frustration.

  • Unable to Cope With Minor Annoyances

Everybody gets short-tempered once in the while, but a depressed teenager may appear to be a 'hair trigger'. This means even the slightest offense can trigger shouting, rage, screaming, crying, and self-harm.

For example, you ask your teenage daughter to take out the garbage because her brother forgot to do it. Instead of an exasperated sigh, you get a full emotional breakdown.

When this happens, it's a very critical time to pay attention to everything your child says. Your teen may bring up memories from years ago or share traumatic incidents that you previously knew nothing about.

While it might be hard to make sense of what your teen is saying while they're sobbing or screaming, you will have a rare opportunity to see what's always going on in their head even during the times they appear to have their emotions under control.

The Depression is Always There

If your teen is depressed, the depression is always there. It's a monster they have to battle each and every day. Just because she's upbeat and smiling one day doesn't mean everything's 'fine' now. It just means she has a firmer grip on her emotions than she did when she had the meltdown over taking out the trash.

What You Can Do to Help Your Teen

If you suspect your teen is struggling with depression, try talking with him first. If he won't open up, make appointments with health professionals who are willing to provide comprehensive care.

The best medical provider will want to do a full work-up, get to know your teen, and will recommend tests to rule out physical causes of depression, such as nutritional deficiencies, environmental allergies, or food sensitivities.

They will also recommend a good therapist for your child to talk with instead of a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner whose only purpose is to dispense prescription drugs.

Knowing the subtle signs of depression in teens can help you take action for them when they simply cannot do it themselves. You may even save your child's life.

  

See also:

1 in 4 Women on Antidepressant Drugs for Stress, Depression, Anxiety

Stress and Depression by Jon Barron

Depression is not a chemical imbalance, it is a sign your life is out of order

Natural Supplement Found Superior to Prescription Antidepressants

Sources:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adolescents.shtml
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/dxc-20164556
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/

About the author:

Jaime is a professional freelance writer with a passion for natural health and wellness and she is also the author of Life Beyond Chronic Pain: The Step-by-Step Guide to Healing Chronic Illness Naturally. Her website, I Told You I Was Sick, was created to help those living with chronic pain and illness find natural ways to heal.

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